Not having read any of Justine Saracen's work before (despite having The 100th Generation sitting on my self for years), I wasn't quite sure what to expect of Beloved Gomorrah. It sounded like an interesting premise, one that I thought might be equal parts Clive Cussler adventure and part Dan Brown historical puzzle, with a little romance mixed in.
Instead, I found it to be a very down-to-earth story of relationships, ideas, and philosophies.
The underwater scenes are interesting, but very low-key, and even a shark attack fails to generate any real sort of drama or excitement. The treasure hunt itself is more of an accidental discovery, and one that (for my tastes, at least) is resolved a little too easily. I would have liked to see more of a challenge presented to Joanna and Charlie, especially with their subsequent dives, but I also understand that the search itself is not the focus of the story. It is simply a means by which the 'true' story of Sodom and Gomorrah can be revealed.
That brings us into the realm of ideas and philosophies (don't worry, I haven't forgotten about relationships). Saracen boldly suggests that rather than being sinful places of low repute, the two cities were actually highly civilized examples of tolerance and equality. They were places where people of all races and religions coexisted peacefully, and where the love of two people, regardless of gender, was respected above all else. It's a bold idea, and one that immediately brings to mind the Utopian ideal of Atlantis, but its the reinvention of Lot's story that really makes it work. Saracen not only turns the myth of 'one good man' on its head, she turns his wife (upon whom she finally bestows a name) into the heroine of the tale, and his daughters into innocent victims.
Although the contemporary portion of the tale doesn't precisely mirror the myth, it contains enough parallels to accentuate the injustices of the Biblical version. Saracen lays it on thick, (almost too heavy in fact) with examples of homophobia, religious intolerance, and child abuse. Unfortunately, she only skims the surface of these crimes, never giving them a chance to be fully explored. It robs the story of some of its potential to change attitudes and drive change, but it also keeps it from becoming too preachy, which is important to keeping the story accessible.
That brings us, finally, to the relationships.Beloved Gomorrah is a story of fathers (with Joanna's father influencing the course of her life and her career from beyond the grave, and Kaia's husband altering her relationship with her daughters through one terrible secret) of lovers (with Joanna and Kaia at the forefront, healing one another both physically and emotionally), and of friendships (with the unlikeliest of reluctant friendships being the glue that holds the climax together). The romantic element is important, and serves as a catalyst for the story, but it's not overwhelming.
Overall, it's a well-written story that lends itself to a quick, easy read, all leading up to a final scene of justice served that's suitably understated. Even if it wasn't quite what I had hoped for, and even if I felt it stopped shy of a few developments that could have pushed it over the top, it was still an enjoyable read, and one that has me curious to finally catch up with The 100th Generation.
Published March 19th 2013 by Bold Strokes Books
Paperback, 288 pages